Women’s History Month 2024: Jewish Women at the Forefront of the Fight for Gender Equity

April 1, 2024Rachel Landis

Celebrated each March, Women's History Month is a time to recognize the achievements of women and recommit ourselves to the continuing fight for gender equity. As Women's History Month draws to a close, let's take an opportunity to highlight some amazing Jewish women and their work to advance justice.

Lisa Sobel, Jessica Kalb, and Sarah Baron

In June 2022, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, overturning Roe and leaving the right the restrict or ban abortion to the states. 25 states have since passed laws restricting reproductive rights and abortion access, with 14 states banning abortion outright. One such state is Kentucky, where state law bans all abortions after six weeks and explicitly states that life begins at the moment of fertilization. This definition prioritizes one narrow Christian theological interpretation above all others, including Jewish law, which teaches that a fetus does not have a nefesh (soul) until birth.

Sobel, Kalb, and Baron argue that Kentucky's definition of when life begins contradicts their Jewish beliefs and is therefore a violation of their religious freedom. Their case primarily concerns the question of their access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF treatments), which has long been a target for anti-abortion advocates. The plaintiffs shared that the law as it stands would force them to pay to keep embryos produced through IVF frozen indefinitely.

Kentucky's law is part of broader trend of state legislation targeting IVF. 13 states are considering passing similar laws that would establish fetal personhood and therefore could be grounds for restricting access to IVF. In February 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a law similar to Kentucky's, ruling that embryos used for IVF were subject to the same rights and protections as children. Now more than ever, Sobel, Kalb, and Baron's suit is at the frontline for protecting both reproductive rights and religious freedoms.

As multiple states consider laws targeting IVF, join Lisa Sobel, Jessica Kalb and Sarah Baron by telling your governor to protect access to IVF and other necessary reproductive healthcare.

Dina Bakst and Sherry Leiwant

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 was supposed to ensure that workers can take unpaid leave, 40 percent of workers are excluded from FMLA and many low-wage workers that do qualify cannot afford to take unpaid leave. The lack of federally mandated paid leave disproportionately impacts women. Women make up approximately half of the American workforce. Women are 1/3 more likely than men to take leave to care for a baby or aging relative, exacerbating the already existing wage gap. Of new mothers who worked while pregnant and were able to take paid leave, 90 percent returned to work within one year, while less than half of new mothers who had to quit their jobs returned to work within a year.

Dina Bakst and Sherry Leiwant, co-founders of A Better Balance, are some of the leading activists on this issue. Since 2005, A Better Balance has been advocating to create a level playing field for mothers and all caregivers in the workforce. The goal of providing support to workers is core to Judaism's values. The Torah emphasizes the importance of ethical treatment of workers in one of the oldest known codified labor laws: "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer… but you must pay them their wages on the same day, for they are needy and urgently depends on it" (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Bakst and Leiwant's advocacy for paid family leave, as well as fair treatment of pregnant workers and pay equity, are necessary to building a truly equal country. 

Join the fight for paid leave by urging your member of Congress to pass the FAMILY Act.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch

From the first days after the October 7th attack, there were credible reports of sexual violence against Israeli women and children. Despite urging from the international Jewish community, very little was done by the feminist, human rights, and international communities to support victims of sexual violence on October 7th. However, Jewish women such as Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch have spoken out even when other groups were absent.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch is the current executive director of Women of Reform Judaism , an organization that has been particularly active in uplifting the voices of Israeli women during this difficult time. Rabbi Hirsch led an unprecedented joint mission to Israel, titled "We Will Not Be Silent," the first trip to focused on hearing the firsthand accounts of Israeli women. The trip met with survivors of October 7th, civil society leaders, and activists, all with the goal of elevating stories that the rest of the world has declined to hear.

Join Rabbi Hirsch in the fight to recognize the trauma of Israeli women by urging the Senate to condemn rape and sexual violence committed by Hamas in its war against Israel. 

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